Project Learning Tree, an environmental awareness-training program for educators, recently celebrated its 50th workshop for elementary education teacher candidates at Frostburg State University. The workshops, held twice each semester on the FSU campus, annually train approximately 120 pre-service teachers in strategies and activities to encourage environmental awareness in elementary students.
Sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources-Forest Service, The Maryland Forests Association, Maryland State Association of Forest Conservancy District Boards, Mead Westvaco Corporation, Maryland Tree Farm Committee and FSU’s Department of Education Professions, the PLT workshops actively involve participants in a variety of activities geared toward improving children’s awareness of the environment and encouraging children to make informed decisions about the environment.
Created in 1973, this international program has been recognized as one of the premier environmental education programs in the world. Through hands-on, interdisciplinary activities, PLT provides students with opportunities to investigate environmental issues and encourages them to make informed, responsible decision. Project Learning Tree’s emphasis is the development of critical thinking skills – teaching students How to think, not WHAT to think. Project Learning Tree training offers over one hundred activities and ideas to use in the Pre-K through eighth grade classrooms. Activities emphasize critical thinking, creativity and active, interdisciplinary learning and collaboration.
Initiated in 1992, through a collaborative effort between Bernie Zlomek, project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources-Forest Service and Barbara Ornstein, professor in the FSU Educational Professions Department, Project Learning Tree has trained over 1,500 elementary education majors at FSU. FSU was the first teacher education institution in the state of Maryland to require Project Learning Tree training for its elementary education majors. For the past 13 years, Zlomek and a staff of area personnel from the Maryland Forest Service, Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland Cooperative Extension agency and MeadWestvaco have returned to the FSU campus of the six-hour workshop.
Participants receive, through the support of the sponsors, a variety of teaching materials, prizes, refreshments and a set of over 20 posters for their future classrooms. This year, the Maryland Forests Association presented each teacher candidate with a CD-Rom entitled “Maryland Forests Forever: An Interactive Forestry Tour,” a learning tool designed to increase student understanding of the importance of employing scientific principles to sustaining forest management. This will be an invaluable addition to the handbook of PLT activities.
The DNR forestry personnel also use the workshops as an opportunity to implore the teachers to help spread Smokey Bear’s message to their future students about preventing forest fires. A decreasing work force size over the past ten years has all but eliminated programs that forest rangers had presented to the county’s schools, necessitating the use of other resources to spread the fire prevention message.
According to Ornstein, Project Learning Tree continues to be one of the most popular workshops offered to the future Pre-K-8 teachers. She attributes the overwhelming success of the workshops to the dedication, energy and enthusiasm of the staff/facilitators, as well as the commitment of the generous sponsors and is looking forward to celebrating PLT milestones for years to come.